Friday, 13 November 2015


The last couple of weeks have seen blog posts from guest writers talking about how they got into writing – whether by genetic disposition (Jenny Kane) or by going on a residential writing course (Maggie Cummiss).

Guest posts like this always get a lot of interest. Perhaps it’s because a lot of my readers are themselves writers, so they want to know how other people have made their way into print. But a lot of people seem to be interested in my posts about tango and I'm sure I have already written something about how I started writing, so I wondered if some of you might be interested in how I moved into the strange world of Argentine tango.

When I started to ski I looked for something that would keep me ski fit out of season and what I came up with was ice skating. Eventually I took up ice dance, the evil love-child of figure skating and ballroom dance. One of my fellow ice dancers turned out to be a tango teacher and she persuaded me to give that a go.

After the strict tempo rigidity and formalised postures of ballroom dance, the freedom of the fluid tempo and constant improvisation of tango came as a revelation. Here was a dance where you could let the music take you and sweep you along and where your partner would move naturally with you. People complained that tango stretched their ability to balance, but after years of staying upright on blades a few millimetres across, the idea that I could rest my whole foot on the ground was an unprecedented luxury. And moving from getting up before dawn to practice in a freezing ice-rink to staying up late on a sweaty dance floor was very heaven.

We started to learn a very theatrical style of tango – showy and fun, but more Strictly than anything than an Argentinian would recognise as their national dance. Still, my partner and I knew no better and, caught up in the romance of it, we eventually booked our tickets to Buenos Aires.

Maldita Milonga, Buenos Aires

 With all its dirt and poverty, crime and corruption, its economic insanity and political failure, it remains, for us a city of wonders. We love the buzzing streets, the friendly people, the food, the cafes, the bookshops and theatres, the zoo, the parks. Over the years we've been robbed (Buenos Aires pickpockets are true artists), we've found ourselves staying in an apartment without electricity or water, we've been lost, soaked (in summer it doesn't rain often but when it does there can be catastrophic floods) and baked. And we still love the town and have met some wonderful people. Most of all, for us, we have heard marvellous music and seen some fantastic dancers. But on that first visit, most of this was before us. What we mainly realised was that we couldn't dance tango at all. The style we had been taught may have looked quite glitzy but had nothing in common with the close embrace and sensuous movement of the dance we saw in Buenos Aires. We came back to London and got a new teacher.

Bianca is from Eastern Europe and has an acerbic teaching manner. But, as someone explained, ‘She is so harsh because she cares so much.’ A brilliant technical dancer (and an astonishingly sexy one) she took our dance to pieces and slowly put it back together again in something that approached an Argentine style. We went back to Buenos Aires and found ourselves taking the floor without making quite such fools of ourselves.

A couple of years later we moved on. Bianca was great, but we wanted to explore other styles and we started lessons with Alexandra Wood. You may have seen Alex on TV (she appeared on Strictly and turns up from time to time on other shows) or in the stage show (or DVD) Midnight Tango. A lovely dancer and a fantastic teacher, she built our confidence while remorselessly drilling us in the basic steps from which all the other fancy moves flow.

By now a horrifying amount of our lives is defined by tango. We go out dancing socially far too often (you can dance every night of the week in London if you want to) and have danced in Paris and Reykjavik. My partner has even danced in Seoul. Whenever we can afford it, we are off to Argentina again. We have cleared out a room in our house so that we have space to dance. We have adapted to a life that only really gets going after 10.00pm (2.00am in Buenos Aires). We both own ridiculous numbers of shoes and the first question my partner asks when looking a new dress is: ‘Can you dance in that?’ Our music collection is dominated by tango in all its forms, from the deeply traditional orchestras of the 1930s to tango covers of Beatles classics.

Tango by the Seine

Tango (we are assured by Argentines we know) has been scientifically shown to ward off heart problems, depression and even dementia. There’s no doubt that it improves posture and general fitness. It’s clearly true that it brings a whole new social life and the knowledge that in any big city in the world you need only a pair of shoes and the address of the local tango club to find yourself among friends.

With Burke in the Land of Silver I was able to combine my love of Argentina and my love of writing. There’s no reason why I should ever have to choose between tango and writing, but, if I ever did, I think it is writing that would be cast aside while I hit the floor to lose myself in dance.

Bianca teaches in London. Details at

Alex divides her time between London and Italy. Her website is at

If you have questions about taking up tango, feel free to post them here.

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